So far, more than 200 symptoms associated with the new coronavirus have been identified, scientists are still trying to determine how long, for sure, the infection takes.
Infectious disease specialist Alexandra Brugler Yonts, from Children’s National Hospital, in the United States, explained to ‘Fortune’ that she divides long-term infections by Covid-19 into five categories, using as criteria the sequelae left by the disease.
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The first category groups together patients who have organ damage due to infection, which will cause long-term health problems. As an example, about 50% of people who have contracted the disease still have lung lesions a year after infection.
Another classification has focused on the process of inflammation, an immune response whose purpose is to attack infected cells. However, there are cases in which the inflammatory reaction persists long after infection, which may impair the healthy functioning of other organs.
Dysautonomia is another of the categories presented by the specialist, and defines the set of disorders in terms of the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which governs nerve impulses, generated without the person’s will or intention, ranging from the brain or spinal cord to, for example, the glands and the heart.
Some people who have contracted Covid-19 have experienced direct effects on the autonomic system, and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) is estimated to affect long-term Covid-19 patients. Considered an autoimmune response, POTS can cause irregularities in heart rate and blood pressure as a person changes position, for example, getting out of bed or a chair.
In some Covid-19 patients, it is noted that the viral load does not seem to decrease, due to infected cells that continue to produce genetic chains of the virus, prolonging the infection for several months, and, from the point of view of Alexandra Brugler Yonts, constitutes yet another category of prolonged infection.
The final classification is related to changes in the level of immune response capacity. The expert told ‘Fortune’ that the occurrence of this category has already been observed in conjunction with other categories, but it has also been verified alone.
Days after infection, the immune system tries to normalize itself, correcting the response peaks seen to fight the pathogen. However, by reducing activity, it can expose the body to viruses that, in normal situations, it could fight. The specialist says that some young patients who had Covid-19, after infection, ended up contracting diseases such as mononucleosis, which the body could have easily repelled if the immune system had been working normally.
Yonts explains that scientists should focus on identifying the causes of these long-term infections, so that they can design the most appropriate treatments and minimize the long-term sequelae of Covid-19 infection.